Pope Francis: His strength lies in leading by serving

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Francis is one of the most well-loved Popes in history, and has inspired many to return to the Church

On the anniversary of Pope Francis' election to papacy last night, Catholics gathered at the University of Notre Dame in London to listen to Dr Austen Ivereigh give an address on the Pope's reforms and their implications for the wider Church.

As former adviser to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor and a media commentator during the papal transition of 2013, Ivereigh is well placed to discuss the impact that Francis is having on the direction of the Catholic Church, as well as the way in which it is perceived by secular society.

He structured his talk, hosted by Catholic Voices, around three main points of reform: Governance, pastoral reform to make the Church more missionary, and hermeneutics. Ivereigh was particularly eager to centre on the themes of collegiality and synodality which are to be key points of focus for the Church in 2014.

Beginning by referring to Cardinal Vincent Nichol's recent assertion that Pope Francis is not a reformer but a "radical renewalist", Dr Ivereigh joked that he wished he had known this before he settled on the title of his latest book: "Francis the Great Reformer".

He added, however, that "all great reformers are radical renewalists" and that Pope Francis is explicit about the need for reform, particularly regarding the way that the Church is governed.

"He has introduced collegiality, and has made substantial changes in this area," Ivereigh noted, underlining the transformation that has been made in the College of Cardinals and the establishment of a kind of Senate within the Vatican.

These changes are perhaps symptomatic of Pope Francis' humility and desire to alter the distribution of power within the Church, a notion that is encapsulated in his decision to refer to himself as the Bishop of Rome rather than his official papal title.

Dr Ivereigh also highlighted the Pope's passion for making the Church more mission-focussed. "If we are to judge this papacy, it will be more missional by the end of it," he promised, before indicating the Pope's heart for real pastoral issues, particularly marriage, divorce and the family, and suggesting that it is this desire to focus on the relational that has given rise to the 'Francis Effect'.

The Pope's first apostolic exhortation published in November, Evangelii Gaudium, was also highlighted in the address as a key component of reformation. Ivereigh praised it for "challenging and uprooting what is unhealthy in the Church" and the way in which it calls for purification.

Pope Francis as a work of graffiti art by someone identifying themselves as Maupal. His radical reforms have led many to consider him as a super-hero figure.

He attributed Pope Francis' vision for the Church as being encapsulated by the phrase: "Life grows when you give it away."

The final portion of the evening was given over to Pope Francis' heart for ordinary people. Dr Ivereigh applauded the Pope for his Christ-like attitude, noting that "Jesus spent his time with the ordinary people – the fishermen and the tax collectors – they were his priority, and they are also the Pope's".

"His real option is for the poor, they are where he is anchored," he declared, recalling that Francis spends three hours in St Peter's Square each week with the sick and disabled, much preferring to connect with them rather than the officials and diplomats present.

"Hermeneutics are the key, and they have allowed Francis to resist elitist ideologies," Ivereigh said.

"The yardstick of his reform is God's Holy Faithful People. He is not a man who has come to the Church with a vision he wants to impose, but a superb leader who sees his task as to lead by serving.

"He is outside of formulas and schemes; we know his reform is authentic because it is pastoral, and rooted in God's Holy Faithful People."

Pope Francis' reforms are clearly having a profound and far-reaching effect both within and outside of the Church, which is giving cause for Catholics to be excited about what is to come in the remaining years of his papacy.

"When I'm asked to name the most important thing from the past year, it has struck me that people are listening.  Those who have left the Catholic Church, or have no interest in the Church, are now listening," Dr Ivereigh noted.

"It's heartening, and it fills me with hope."

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